“It is in the most dangerous times that art is the voice —”
April 20, 2017 11:47 AM   Subscribe

'The Book Of Joan' Recasts A Historic Heroine — In Space [NPR] “What does it mean to be human? In Lidia Yuknavitch's new novel The Book of Joan, what's left of the human race is orbiting above the Earth, sexless and ageless, prisoners in a technological hell. Their lives are preserved through growing limbs and grafting skin. Presiding over it all is a one-time billionaire celebrity who evolved through media and technology into a despot. His adversary is a girl called Joan; Yuknavitch says she adapted the story of Joan of Arc to make her heroine "an eco-terrorist of sorts, although that name would depend on your point of view. She has allegiance to the planet, and diversity on the planet, including plants and animals and people. And as the story progresses, her allegiance turns into a question somewhat like "what's the worth of humans, and what's our relationship to the planet?"”

• 'The Book Of Joan' Retells Joan Of Arc's Story — In An Apocalyptic Future In Space [Bustle]
““I think language and the body are literally sites — real places — where meanings are always generated and negated, endlessly,” says Yuknavitch. “Creation and destruction are not linear opposites. They make a helix that’s always co-present. So, though we’ve over-commodified violence and destruction and sexuality and creation, and treated them as if they’re opposites from each other — creation and destruction — in language, as on the body, they are not binaries. They are happening on top of each other all the time. We’re sloughing off skin and hair cells right now, cells are being killed inside our bodies at the same rate they’re being produced, so creation/destruction just isn’t a binary in life the way we’ve made it in our meaning systems.””
• Retrofuturist Feminism: Lidia Yuknavitch’s “The Book of Joan” [LA Review of Books]
“CIEL is populated by the desexualized, hairless, and ever-more-white remnants of humanity, those who were privileged enough to merit “ascension” to Jean de Men’s constructed world above the ravaged Earth. In CIEL, gender, class, and economic divisions have disappeared along with pigment and genitalia. Procreation is impossible, but people are ceremonially killed at 50 anyway (one true technological advancement of this new age is the ability to extract water from corpses). Non-procreative, non-penetrative sex (the only bodily sex now available) is illegal. Textual sex is the only sex allowed, and Jean de Men himself is the author of CIEL’s best-selling romance — critiqued by our narrator Christine, because “all of the women in his story demand to be raped.””
• Bodies in Space: Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Book of Joan [Tor]
“Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Book of Joan is so much more than just a retelling of the story of Joan of Arc. Let’s get plot out of the way: In the near future, the Water Wars have ravaged the Earth. Those who are too young or weak to fight are crushed by a constant roving battle. One group gathers around Jean de Men, a charismatic but brutal leader who would exploit the planet’s resources until there is nothing left; the other around Joan of Dirt, a young woman warrior. Rather than hearing the voice of God, this Joan hears the voice of the Earth itself, a song that is being sung by the dirt, the trees, the water, the air…but this is no Disney ballad—it’s a song of fury and pain, and when it enters Joan’s mind it changes her life irrevocably. From this ecologically-minded update of Joan of Arc Lidia Yuknavitch creates a masterful book that is concerned with the stories we tell ourselves, and how we choose to tell those stories. When humanity is at its endpoint, facing its ultimate destruction, what story will we whisper into the dark?”
posted by Fizz (10 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Oh that looks very interesting! I am definitely going to check this one out! Thanks for posting.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 12:00 PM on April 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's on order at my library and I just reserved it.
posted by Kitteh at 12:07 PM on April 20, 2017

Very stoked to read this.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 12:23 PM on April 20, 2017

It sounds interesting - but I'm a little wary, because there's a long SFnal tradition of "the dystopian future is one where hive-insect-like people have no gender! Also actual sex is frowned upon! Healthy people who have gender and enjoy sex fix things!" which really reifies ideas about health, gender, the body and what "normal" sexual feelings are. Genderlessness as shorthand for evil and dystopia is also pretty common.
posted by Frowner at 12:50 PM on April 20, 2017 [15 favorites]

Frowner, I really agree. From the NPR like, she has this to say:

I didn't entirely lose color and gender, but I sort of flattened it out to the construct of white versus everything else, in terms of diversity, in a way that helped me focus a question about, deeper than our racial arguments and our gender arguments that seem to be locked in a loop just now of, you know, are you for or against something. And I was trying to unbuild the very constructs themselves of the gender story and the race story and the God story, and even the love story. To put them back into smaller units we could just look at and ask each other, what have we done to each other and the planet?

Which doesn't actually clarify anything at all, really. She wants to expand the arguments around gender/race beyond a simple yea/nay, and yet she "flattens it out" so that it's pure white vs. everything else. It seems a bit contradictory.

Also, sex isn't gender, y'all. Just...just saying. Can't not say it.
posted by FirstMateKate at 1:07 PM on April 20, 2017 [6 favorites]

I'm about 20% through this book and I'm really enjoying it. It's very much not your typical SF dystopian malaise.
posted by msbutah at 1:48 PM on April 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

It seems a bit contradictory.

I haven't read it yet, but it sound more to me like she doesn't want sex and gender to be what the book is about. She wants to use the image of Joan as an avenger, but not highlight her femininity.

There are lots of examples of heroic narratives about men where their gender is not raised as a plot point. It seems to me from these interviews that Yuknavitch wants to talk about the ideas raised by a Jean d'Arc figure, but without making gender central to the story.

Anyway, on the to read list.
posted by bonehead at 2:38 PM on April 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

This looks fascinating. Thanks.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 7:39 PM on April 20, 2017

This looks interesting and I will put it on my to-read list.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:32 AM on April 21, 2017

Stephenson's "SevenEves" explores a variation in a far distant feminine future in an unexpectedly thrilling way. I highly recommend...
posted by judson at 7:14 AM on April 21, 2017

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